Better than Basic Income? Liberty, Equality, and the Regulation of Working Time
44 Pages Posted: 20 Nov 2017 Last revised: 11 Apr 2018
Date Written: November 16, 2017
Basic income has attracted the attention of academics, policy makers, and politicians around the globe. Basic income—a no-strings-attached cash transfer made to all citizens of a country, rich or poor—has been lauded as a plan to eliminate poverty, reduce income inequality, redress imbalances in the labor market, remedy the impending problem of mass technology-induced unemployment—the “robot apocalypse”—and make possible meaningful lives for those otherwise dependent on menial work in the labor market. It has also been proposed as an efficient, nonpaternalistic, and stigma-free alternative to existing welfare state policies. This Article compares basic income to an alternative policy proposal: the regulation of maximum working hours in the labor market. This Article contends that on nearly all of these virtues, working-time regulation does better than, or at least as well as, basic income. In particular, working-time regulation makes “free time” available to a broader array of individuals, also addresses technological unemployment, and is much more conducive to pro-environmental policies. Most importantly, it is more deeply egalitarian than basic income, not only addressing income inequality but social inequality, as well. Although basic income and working-time regulation are not necessarily incompatible—indeed some have advocated the adoption of both policies—there may be other factors that effectively render them policy substitutes. Specifically, not only is working-time regulation more complementary to existing welfare-state policy than is basic income, but—already in existence in the U.S. and most other developed countries—it also does not face the challenges of political and economic feasibility that confront basic income. Thus the choice and comparison is a compelling one, of which legal, policy, and tax scholars should take note.
Keywords: basic income, inequality, redistribution, poverty, taxation
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